On Saving a Tiny Life

A 93-year-old neighbor, a chemical engineering doctoral student, and I all helped save a baby grackle two nights ago.

The student didn’t have to watch the grackle–it had fallen to the ground and couldn’t fly–until someone showed up to help her.  I didn’t have to stop my night run to ask her what’s going on.  I didn’t have to offer to take the bird home with me in hopes of taking it to a wildlife rehab center the following day.  Nor did I have to babysit the bird until she went up to her office and returned with a plastic bag.  She didn’t have to call nearby vet offices to see if any were open so late at night.  I didn’t have to scoop the bird up and take it home.  My neighbor didn’t have to answer or help me out when I knocked on her door at 10 pm.   She didn’t have to take the bird in–by this time I had put it in a shoebox with some water in an overturned plastic lid–and watch it for me until I returned from work the following day and could take it to the rehab center.  She didn’t have to–she has rheumatoid arthritis–take the bird to the vet in the morning, where they took it from her and put it on track to be rehabilitated.

We could have ignored the baby bird.  Like a typical tourist who skims over the new culture he’s exploring instead of diving deeply into it, we could have let things be as they were.  A stray or feral cat, fire ants, or a campus rat would have probably killed the bird overnight.  But we all chose to engage, and the bird lived at least another day.

Did it make a difference?  Does that even matter?  There’s this deceptively simple idea I’ve been running with for years, which is that you choose what makes you *and* others happy/thrive and you try to be productive along those lines.  In pseudo-biological terms, you choose to be the “anti-prion” that reconfigures proteins in its scope of influence for the better.  This constitutes a “good” life.  Your thoughts?


6 thoughts on “On Saving a Tiny Life

  1. Yes, your concept is a good one. I also try to choose what makes me happy, not necessarily what makes others happy. So I may have helped the bird as well, because it would make me feel good to have been able to help it.
    But in the end it died anyway, and I would question if it was worth it and would I do it again. Did I prolong suffering? Would it have been better to leave it to the cats or natural death? These are hard questions to answer, because each life is a gift, whether human or beast and to know when to intervene is also a gift. Thank you for your story!

  2. even though it doesn’t always feel that way, i think it matters. scientists talk about such “micro moments” and the net effect of repeated moments which helps people feel positive or connected to others and the world.

  3. I wish I were the baby bird. All three of you gave love and hope to the tiny life, which is the most valuable thing. The bird may not have a chance to see the world or fly in the sky without your help.

    Similar to human being, doctors always try the best to save their patients. Even one more day of life could mean a lot to the patient. Farokh, you are a great doctor with a great heart! The heart goes before clinical skills!

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